Rector to head Capistrano parish: The Rev. Art Holquin of Holy Family Cathedral, Orange, ready for mission.

October 28, 2002, Orange County Register


The Rev. Art Holquin, the longtime rector of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange told his parishioners Sunday that he will head the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Holquin, 54, will replace Monsignor Paul Martin who retires in July after more than 38 years as shepherd of the San Juan Capistrano parish.

Some cried, some cheered and everyone gave him a long, standing ovation.

Bishop Tod D. Brown, who had celebrated Mass, joked "I assume the applause is not because he is leaving, but because he has served so well."

The mission post is significant in the diocese of 1 million parishioners. The San Juan Capistrano church holds the status of a minor basilica, a designation granted by Pope John Paul II because of its historical importance. It was the first in a string of missions along El Camino Real founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra.

Those who know say Holquin is a man to match the mission. Even so:

"Leaving will be difficult; the roots are sunk deeply," said Holquin, who began his priesthood duties at Holy Family and has served there steadily for 14 years. "The parishioners taught me what it means to be a pastor. At the same time, it's exciting to know that I will be part of a historic church. It's a tremendous honor and privilege."

Brown said he chose Holquin for the post because of his "deep sense of spirituality, his administrative vision, and his love of history and wonderful sense of liturgy."

In Holquin's office is a photo of him and former Bishop William Johnson at the blessing of the mission bells on May 24, 1985.

"Who would have thought?" Holquin said, shaking his head. "Who would have ever thought?"

The mission to which Holquin has now been appointed rector holds many "sentimental ties," he said. He was a master of ceremonies at the mission's bicentennial in 1976.

He paused and his voice cracked as he recalled his own father, who was a tool and die maker, always wanted to retire to the area, but died before realizing that dream. "I'm not here to retire, though," he said, quickly, wiping his eyes.

Holquin at 54 has an unlined, boyish face and solemn, bespectacled brown eyes. Among a cohort of priests in traditional black suits and white collars, Holquin is known as a spit-and-polish guy. His suits fit just right, his shoes shine like mirrors and his hair is groomed to a T. He keeps in shape spiritually and physically by getting up at 4:45 a.m. to pray, lift weights and work on a treadmill.

"My prayer life is not a mystical one where I see visions of Our Lady speaking. I'm pretty ordinary in that regard." But that daily rhythm of prayers, he said, gives him strength to live in the world -- to prepare his homilies, to teach, to take care of the thousand and one crises that bombard the parish day after day.

Where he most meets his God, he said, is when he celebrates the Eucharist. He majored in liturgy at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo and learned the nuts and bolts of the service. But standing at the altar, he said, he is often overwhelmed with humility, gratitude and joy.

Others are struck by the beauty he brings to rites.

April Holzenecht of Orange said Holquin had married her and her husband Gary. "He made the ceremony a very spiritual event. But then he also joked with my husband about being scared of marriage, which he was, and Father knew he was. It helped," she said.

Jan Zimmerman said Holquin's sermons are among the best, but what really lifts her spiritually is the caring way Holquin celebrates Mass.

"Some priests rush through it or seem awkward, but he does it so reverently that it sometimes makes me cry."

Bishop Brown said that is one reason he chose him for the mission post. "He has a wonderful sense of liturgy. The mission has nearly 5,000 parishioners and tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world who can avail themselves of that beautiful celebration."

Holquin grew up in Granada Hills in a family of Mexican, Spanish, German and French descent. He said he knew in second grade that he wanted to be a priest.

"I just had this peaceful feeling even at that age when I was in church. And I saw joy radiating from people closely connected to God. It was infectious."

As a teenager, he said, "I had date nights at Disneyland like the other kids and sometimes dreamed about being a veterinarian or an attorney." But eventually the daily exposure to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and mentor priests finally inspired him to take the hard step to become a priest. "I wanted to be like them. I saw their sense of love of the Lord and how they served people."

His mother, Bertha, was proud. His father, Arthur Sr., took him aside and said: "If it doesn't work out, there's no problem."

The day after he was ordained in 1974, he gave his own father, a former Baptist, his first Communion.

His first parish job was at Holy Family Cathedral and then at Holy Spirit Church in Fountain Valley, Saint Boniface in Anaheim and Saint Bonaventure Church in Huntington Beach.

He said he faced his biggest challenge as director of the Diocese's Office for Liturgy and Music, and head of the Office for Evangelization when the pope visited in 1987. Holquin was chosen to arrange liturgical details for the Mass held in the Los Angeles Coliseum. It took one year and 10 committees with their own subcommittees.

Not the least of his problems was to figure out how to serve Communion to 115,000 people in 15 minutes. About 700 priests manned the Communion stations. Another 729 volunteers directed traffic.

The Secret Service insisted that attendees go through metal detectors. It took so long that less than an hour before Mass, the coliseum still was almost empty.

At that point, Holquin said he told himself: "I'm not in charge. This is all in God's hands."

Then suddenly the pontiff was right there near him putting incense in the thurible. This was the larger-than-life man, whom Holquin had loved for his courage to fight totalitarian governments and keep the traditional faith of the church. But he was so emotional, all he could think was "Gosh, he's shorter than I thought. "

After the Mass, "He took my hand and said, `Thank you. It was elegant.'"

Holquin was appointed the cathedral's rector in 1988. He was 39, relatively young for the significant diocesan post.

Holquin said it will be a challenge to head up the 5,000-member Mission San Juan Capistrano. When he arrives, he said, "I'm not coming with blueprints. "

He wants to meet with parishioners and staff members in small groups to learn their hopes and dreams for the church.

It's impossible to fill the shoes of Martin, a friend and a much-beloved pastor who has worked diligently to restore the mission.

"He's irreplaceable. He gave many gifts of spirit and service to the church, and I will bring others. "